Data is a key part of a student’s learning.  Whilst teacher’s naturally gather (and hopefully analyse) data as part of their teaching practice, the following infographic hopefully assists them to understand how data can be useful in fully understanding a student.  It asks a teacher to be critical of results and see that these results are one of many pieces of information that can inform them about a student and their learning journey.  This too means that no single piece of information or result is over emphasised.

Data and the Learning Journey

The following tweet from @DataScienceDojo appeared on my timeline and thought it very appropriate and well worth remembering.  #BigData #DataScience

While data is important, right data and the right use of data are crucial.


With the release of NAPLAN data this week, the debate about the testing programme and its worth/merit will no doubt re-surface.  Having worked with numerous schools over the years in looking at data (including NAPLAN results), I offer the following reflection.

NAPLAN should not be over emphasised.  NAPLAN is a test administered over three days (out of approximately 200 school days per year) in the life of a student.   Without other data about student achievement then conclusions drawn can be at best, tenuous.  NAPLAN does provide data to teachers about students which is always a good thing but it should be placed alongside other results to provide a complete understanding of the student and their strengths and areas of need.  This data may be other test results, attendance data, well-being survey results, behaviour incidents and so on.  Reducing the emphasis on NAPLAN will also mean less anxiety around the tests experienced by students, parents and teachers.

NAPLAN should be about improving student achievement and not measuring school progress.  The myschool website, mandatory reporting of school results in annual reports and publication of comparison tables by the media all mean that the focus of NAPLAN has moved away from students, to being a comparison between schools.  It is crucial to use the data provided by NAPLAN to “put faces on the data” and not worry about the total number of students who achieved above or below minimum standards but rather look at the results of individual students. This will lead to programs being refined and developed that meet specific student needs and ultimately greater student success.

NAPLAN highlights the importance of systematically collecting and analysing data.  One of the main benefits I have noticed in schools around NAPLAN data is that it has highlighted and shown educators a way of working with data.  As teachers have delved into the NAPLAN results, they have engaged with data to answer questions around their students.  The next step is to apply this approach of data collection and analysis to other assessment items in all curriculum areas and across the school as a whole. Teachers and school administrators need to work towards

embracing opportunities that are afforded by large amounts of data that are systematically collected, linked over time, presented in accessible formats, and relevant to their everyday work

(Helen Wildy, Using Data to drive school improvement)

And some further reading on the topic:

NAPLAN is fine but the way we use it is broken

NAPLAN: More about schools than students

NAPLAN is not a dirty word

Catholic Schools Test Limits

I am often invited to present my Student Tracking System to schools as they have found that their existing data management system is not working or serving their needs.  I also recently had a colleague ask me to comment on a data management/tracking system he had set up using Microsoft Excel.  As a result of seeing many data management systems in all stages of development, as well as having gone through various iterations to develop a tracking system myself, I provide the following questions as a guide for you to rate your data management system.

  1. Is everything dated?
    Not only does the date give you a record of when something was done but it also allows you to filter information based on date.  For example, you can filter for a particular day, week, month, year or any combination of your choosing.  Ensure all entries are dated.
  2. Is the Student Identification Number included?
    The unique student identifier from your admin system should be included, even it is not used.  You never know when you will want to transfer your data into another system or integrate it with existing databases.  The student identifier allows this to be done efficiently and accurately.
  3. Can all teachers access the system simultaneously?
    Teachers are time poor and need to be able to record data efficiently and easily.  Paper based records secured in an office do not allow for easy access. Also, as various teachers interact with students, they need to be able to record relevant data into the system meaning that multiple teachers maybe recording information about the same student. If staff have easy access to the data management system, they are more likely to record the data.
  4. Is your data secure?
    Ensure data can’t be accidentally deleted or removed.  As teachers work with the data, they will want to manipulate the data to serve their needs and answer the questions they have about the students or groups of students.  This will involve moving columns, hiding or deleting data to only show what is relevant etc.  If a teacher then saves their results, the data that has been deleted will be lost.  An effective data management system will allow teachers to export information and manipulate it whilst preserving the original data.  Of course, backup procedures should also be in place.
  5. Are different views of the data possible?
    Does your system allow for information to be viewed both on an individual student basis as well as in class and scholastic year format.  Several of the schools I have worked with have an individual document for each student.  This satisfies the individual student view but does not allow for class/grade analysis.  Having individual files also means there is a lot of tedious manual work involved if you want to add something to the template.
  6. Is data recorded consistently?
    One of the steps involved in analysing data is ensuring that your data is clean meaning that data being analysed is in the same format.  For example, one teacher recording reading levels as L12, L13 and another recording them as 15, 17 etc will lead to problems of analysis, particularly if you wanted to graph results as a lot of reformatting will be required.  An effective data system will have built in rules or drop down lists to ensure data is recorded consistently to make the analysis step much easier for teachers.
  7. What happens when students leave the school?
    As students leave the school, their data needs to be hidden from the current teachers but needs to be available should it be required in later years.  Your data management system should allow you to archive students so that their data does not distract teachers from looking at their current class(es).
  8. Can your system accommodate change?
    What happens when something needs to be added to the system such as a new test or intervention programme?  As needs within a school change, there needs to be an efficient way for changes to be made to the data management system.
  9. Does the system match your assessment schedule?
    One of the tasks involved in setting up a data management system is working out which tests will be done when and by whom.  In order to measure progress over time it is important that “apples are compared with apples” and so the same/similar tests need to be given.  Working out the schedule of tests can take a lot of discernment and discussion to make sure that the tests are going to give the data that you require.
  10. Can you record all aspects of a student?
    Test results are one component of data in relation to students and their education.  It is also important to record other data such as attendance information, intervention programmes and anecdotal records.  Your data management system needs to be able to record these types of information to ensure the whole child is considered.

How does your data management system stack up?  Contact Andrew Redfern or via mobile 0402054497 or @reditech on twitter to discuss your data management requirements.

A great video that explains how data in the hands of teachers is a powerful tool.  The emphasis here is on the teacher and how they use data to inform their teaching and key stakeholders.  It is a different approach to imposed data collection (ie External Tests) and how it is used to judge teachers and schools.  The question is how to streamline the process of data collection and analysis, to make it more efficient so that it results in improved outcomes for every student.

“When teachers are empowered with data, everyone does better.”